With COVID-19 vaccine shipments from the federal government surging, Maine is opening up two additional mass vaccination sites this week – one at the Portland Expo, the other at the former Marshalls department store in Sanford.
Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew, Portland Mayor Kate Snyder, Northern Light Mercy Hospital President Charlie Therrien and others gave the media a tour of the Portland Expo site on Monday. Northern Light Health, the same health system running the mass vaccination clinic at Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, will operate the site and plans to open it Tuesday.
The Sanford location also will open Tuesday and will be run by MaineHealth, the parent network of Maine Medical Center in Portland, which manages a mass site at Scarborough Downs.
At this time of year, the multipurpose Portland Expo is normally used for Red Claws basketball games and middle school track meets. On Monday, it was instead decorated with signs in seven different languages – English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Khmer, Arabic and Lingala – to inform patients of the mass vaccination site.
“We are thrilled that the vaccinations that begin in the Portland Expo (on Tuesday) will prevent suffering, save lives, and – over time – remove this city and state from the clutches of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lambrew said.
The commissioner added that Maine is planning to open even more mass immunization clinics, including in the Lewiston-Auburn area and Oxford County, as vaccine supplies continue increasing. The state is expected to receive more than 55,000 vaccine doses this week, including 15,000 doses of the newly authorized Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The new vaccines doses from J&J will be distributed to four smaller hospitals, independent pharmacies, public safety agencies and outpatient practices.
Maine is opening up eligibility to residents 60 to 69 this week as part of the new age-based strategy for vaccinations that was announced Friday. To date, the state has been prioritizing health care workers and first responders, as well residents 70 and older.
The Portland Expo clinic initially will be open Tuesdays and Thursdays and will accommodate up to 500 people per day. All appointments for this week are already booked, Northern Light officials said.
“We anticipate ramping up to include more days per week, and to go from 500 per day to 1,000 per day,” Therrien said.
Northern Light also is opening a smaller location at the Maine Mall in South Portland, inside the former Pier 1 store, starting on Wednesday.
Snyder said the Portland Expo site is important because it will provide access to a diverse population, including many minority populations, as well as being convenient for people who don’t drive.
“We want to the public to be able to access this vaccination site, whether they are walking, biking or riding the bus,” Portland’s mayor said.
The Portland Expo includes stations set up for patients to validate their appointments, check-in, receive their vaccine and wait 15 minutes after the shot is given to check for allergic reactions. The entire process should take about 30 minutes, officials said. The vaccination stations were set up Monday with supplies of gloves, gauze, bandages and antiseptic products. A cordoned-off area with a small refrigerator will serve as the area where the vaccine is drawn up.
The Sanford location will serve as the first mass vaccination site in York County, which has been lagging behind other Maine counties in the state’s inoculation program, despite York County’s relatively large population. Through Monday, 14.35 percent of York County residents had received at least the first dose, compared to 19.1 percent in Cumberland County.
Maine health officials reported 128 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and one additional death. Monday’s numbers continue a trend of lower case counts since a surge around the winter holidays. The seven-day average is now 167 cases, down slightly from 183 two week ago and down from 357 this time last month. Cases peaked at more than 600 cases per day, on average, in mid-January.
Since the pandemic reached Maine nearly one year ago, there have been 44,762 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 and 703 people have died with the virus.
The number of people hospitalized in Maine with COVID-19 dropped to 62 on Monday, the lowest total since Nov. 11. Of those, 20 were in critical care and eight were on ventilators. The number of hospitalizations has been falling steadily since peaking at 207 on Jan. 13.
As cases and hospitalizations fall, vaccinations have continued to ramp up. The state could administer more than 55,000 shots this week alone, nearly triple the 18,000 doses per week from a month ago. As of Monday, 228,724 people had received their first dose, about 17 percent of the state’s population, while 121,566 people, or 9 percent, had been fully inoculated.
Maine already was scheduled to receive 39,060 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Saturday issued emergency use authorization to a third COVID-19 vaccine, made by Johnson & Johnson. The state placed an additional order of 11,500 doses but learned Monday that its allocation had been increased to 15,000. Officials also announced that an extra 1,000 doses of Moderna vaccine would be arriving this week.
“We welcome the newly authorized Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” said Dr. Nirav D. Shah, director of the Maine CDC. “It adds an important tool in our efforts to vaccinate Maine people most at risk of death or severe symptoms from COVID-19.”